Monday, December 13, 2010

UN Secretary-General's Message: Human Rights Day, 10 December 2010

Human rights are the foundation of freedom, peace, development and justice -- and the heart of the work of the United Nations around the world.

Laws to protect and promote human rights are indispensable. But quite often, progress comes down to people… courageous women and men… striving to protect their own rights and the rights of others… determined to make rights real in people’s lives.

It is these human rights defenders to whom we dedicate this year’s observance of Human Rights Day.

Defenders are a diverse group. They might be part of a civil society organization, a journalist or even a lone citizen, spurred to action by abuses close to home.

But they all share a commitment to expose wrongdoing, protect the most vulnerable and end impunity. They stand up, speak out -- and today they tweet -- in the name of freedom and human dignity..

Human rights defenders play a vital role in the fight against discrimination. They investigate violations and help victims gain justice and support.

Far too often, their work entails tremendous risk.

Defenders are harassed, stripped of their jobs and wrongfully imprisoned. In many countries, they are tortured, beaten and murdered.

Their friends and family members are also subjected to harassment and intimidation.

Women human rights defenders face additional risks, and therefore need additional support.

This Human Rights Day is an occasion to salute the courage and achievements of human rights defenders everywhere – and to pledge to do more to safeguard their work.

States bear the primary responsibility to protect human rights advocates. I call on all States to ensure the freedom of expression and the freedom of assembly that make their work possible.

When the lives of human rights advocates are endangered, we are all less secure.
When the voices of human rights advocates are silenced, justice itself is drowned out.

On this Human Rights Day, let us be inspired by those seeking to make our world more just. And let us remember that everyone -- no matter their background, training or education -- can be a human rights champion.

So let us use that power. Let us each be a human rights defender.

Ban Ki-Moon


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

124 donated blood units found HIV positive—party-list lawmaker First Posted 13:27:00 11/28/2010 Filed Under: Health, Diseases, Government

MANILA, Philippines—At least 124 units of donated blood were found HIV positive in the 10 months to October this year, a member of Congress disclosed over the weekend.

Citing a Department of Health report, LPGMA (Liquefied Petroleum Gas Marketers’ Association) Party-list Representative Arnel Ty said the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine confirmed that the donated blood units were HIV positive.

In a news release, Ty said the report was based on information from the National Voluntary Blood Safety Program, which monitors the purity of donated blood.

The tainted blood units did not necessarily come from 124 donors since one contributor can give more than one unit, according to Ty.

Ty joined other members of Congress in welcoming Pope Benedict XVI's recent remarks endorsing the use of condoms in the fight against AIDS.

"We expect the Pope's sentiment to figure prominently in House deliberations on the reproductive health bill," he said.

Ty said the discovery of the contaminated blood units did not pose any threat to public health, as these were filtered out precisely due to existing safeguards.
"Nonetheless, the increasing number of diseased blood units found betrays the menacing spread of HIV in the country," he said.

Ty said the 124 donated blood units found HIV positive from January to October already surpassed the 89 similarly infected units detected in the 12 months of 2009. In the whole of 2008, he said 74 donated blood units were found HIV positive, more than double the 30 similarly contaminated units retrieved in 2007.

Ty said the National HIV & AIDS Registry "has made it very clear that donors of the HIV positive blood units may or may not be in its record."

The registry lists a total of 5,729 diagnosed cases as of end October, although the actual number is believed to be much higher.

Ty pointed out that HIV surveillance system remains passive because compulsory testing is unlawful under the 1998 AIDS Prevention and Control Act.

Section 16 of the law states: "Compulsory HIV testing as a precondition to employment, admission to educational institution, the exercise of freedom of abode, entry or continued stay in the country or the right to travel, the provision of medical service or any other kind of service or the continued enjoyment of said undertaking shall be deemed unlawful."

The law fully protects the human rights and civil liberties of persons suspected or known to be infected with HIV.

Ty said diseased blood units are nonetheless getting detected because under the law, legal consent to HIV testing is considered having been given when a person volunteers or freely agrees to donate blood, organ, or tissue for transfusion, transplantation, or research.

News Source:

Photo source:

Friday, November 26, 2010

World AIDS Day: Light for Rights

December 1 is World AIDS Day (WAD), an annual event that raises awareness about the global epidemic of HIV and AIDS.

Each year, informative and educational events are held worldwide. Candlelight vigils, concerts, letter writing campaigns, marches and more will take place all over the world. In fact, events will be held on every continent.

Different “themes” and campaign slogans are used. The theme for 2010 is “Light for Rights”, a campaign that focuses on human rights and HIV by encouraging people around the world to dim their lights in remembrance of the devastating effects AIDS has on the world.

Turning the lights back on will help keep the light on human rights and HIV.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Vatican: Condom use less evil than spreading HIV

By VICTOR L. SIMPSON and NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press Victor L. Simpson And Nicole Winfield, Associated Press

VATICAN CITY – In a seismic shift on one of the most profound — and profoundly contentious — Roman Catholic teachings, the Vatican said Tuesday that condoms are the lesser of two evils when used to curb the spread of AIDS, even if their use prevents a pregnancy.

The position was an acknowledgment that the church's long-held anti-birth control stance against condoms doesn't justify putting lives at risk.

"This is a game-changer," declared the Rev. James Martin, a prominent Jesuit writer and editor.

The new stance was staked out as the Vatican explained Pope Benedict XVI's comments on condoms and HIV in a book that came out Tuesday based on his interview with a German journalist.

The Vatican still holds that condom use is immoral and that church doctrine forbidding artificial birth control remains unchanged. Still, the reassessment on condom use to help prevent disease carries profound significance, particularly in Africa where AIDS is rampant.

"By acknowledging that condoms help prevent the spread of HIV between people in sexual relationships, the pope has completely changed the Catholic discussion on condoms," said Martin, a liberal-leaning author of several books about spirituality and Catholic teaching.

The development came on a day when UNAIDS officials announced that the number of new HIV cases has fallen significantly — thanks to condom use — and a U.S. medical journal published a study showing that a daily pill could help prevent spread of the virus among gay men.

"This is a great day in the fight against AIDS ... a major milestone," said Mitchell Warren, head of the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition.

Theologians have debated for years whether it could be morally acceptable for HIV-infected people to use condoms to avoid infecting their partners. The Vatican years ago was reportedly preparing a document on the subject, but it never came out.

The groundbreaking shift, coming as it does from the deeply conservative pontiff, would appear likely to restrain any public criticism from Catholic conservatives, who insisted Tuesday that the pope was merely reaffirming the church's moral teaching.

Conservatives have feared that a comment like this would give support to Catholics who want to challenge the church's ban on artificial contraception in an environment where they feel they are under siege from a secular, anti-Catholic culture.

George Weigel, a conservative Catholic writer, said the Vatican was by no means endorsing condom use as a method of contraception or a means of AIDS prevention.

"This is admittedly a difficult distinction to grasp," he told The Associated Press in an e-mail. What the pontiff is saying is "that someone determined to do something wrong may be showing a glimmer of moral common sense by not doing that wrong thing in the worst possible way — which is not an endorsement of anything."

Benedict's comments come at a time when bishops in the United States are intensely focused on upholding the strictest views of Catholic orthodoxy, emphasizing traditional marriage, natural family planning based on a woman's menstrual cycle and making abortion the most important issue.

In the book, "Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times," Benedict was quoted as saying that condom use by people such as male prostitutes indicated they were moving toward a more moral and responsible sexuality by aiming to protect their partner from a deadly infection.

His comments implied that he was referring primarily to homosexual sex, when condoms aren't being used as a form of contraception.

However, questions arose immediately about the pope's intent because the Italian translation of the book used the feminine for prostitute, whereas the original German used the masculine.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, told reporters Tuesday that he asked the pope whether he intended his comments to apply only to men. Benedict replied that it really didn't matter, the important thing was that the person took into consideration the life of another.

"I personally asked the pope if there was a serious, important problem in the choice of the masculine over the feminine," Lombardi said. "He told me no. The problem is this: ... It's the first step of taking responsibility, of taking into consideration the risk of the life of another with whom you have a relationship."

"This is if you're a man, a woman, or a transsexual. ... The point is it's a first step of taking responsibility, of avoiding passing a grave risk onto another," Lombardi said.

Those comments concluded the press conference, and Lombardi took no further questions about how broadly this interpretation could be applied.

The clarification is significant.

UNAIDS estimates that 22.4 million people in Africa are infected with HIV, and that 54 percent — or 12.1 million — are women. Heterosexual transmission of HIV and multiple, heterosexual partners are believed to be the major cause of the high infection rates.

Benedict drew harsh criticism when, en route to Africa in 2009, he told reporters that the AIDS problem couldn't be resolved by distributing condoms. "On the contrary, it increases the problem," he said then.

In Africa on Tuesday, AIDS activists, clerics and ordinary Africans applauded the pope's revised comments.

"I say, hurrah for Pope Benedict," exclaimed Linda-Gail Bekker, chief executive of South Africa's Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation. She said the pope's statement may prompt many people to "adopt a simple lifestyle strategy to protect themselves."

In Sierra Leone, the director of the National AIDS Secretariat predicted condom use would now increase, lowering the number of new infections.

"Once the pope has made a pronouncement, his priests will be in the forefront in advocating for their perceived use of condoms," said the official, Dr. Brima Kargbo.

Lombardi said Benedict knew full well that his comments would provoke intense debate. Conservative Catholics have been trying to minimize what he said since excerpts were published this weekend in the Vatican newspaper.

The Rev. Tim Finnegan, a conservative British blogger, said he thought the pope's comments were unwise. "I'm sorry. I love the Holy Father very much; he is a deeply holy man and has done a great deal for the church," Finnegan said on his blog. "On this particular issue, I disagree with him."

Lombardi praised Benedict for his "courage" in confronting the problem.
"He did it because he believed that it was a serious, important question in the world of today," Lombardi said, adding that the pope wanted to give his perspective on the need for greater humanized, responsible sexuality.

Luigi Accatoli, a veteran Vatican journalist who was on the Vatican panel that launched the book, put it this way:
"He spoke with caution and courage of a pragmatic way through which missionaries and other ecclesial workers can help to defeat the pandemic of AIDS without approving, but also without excluding — in particular cases — the use of a condom," Accatoli said.

The launch of the book, which includes wide-ranging comments on subjects from the sex abuse crisis to Benedict's belief that popes should resign if physically unable to carry out their mission, drew a packed audience. Making a rare appearance, Benedict's secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, sat in the front row — an indication of the event's significance.

In the book, the pope reaffirms Vatican opposition to homosexual acts and artificial contraception, as well as the inviolability of marriage between man and woman.
But by broadening the condom comments to also apply to women, the pope was saying that condom use is a lesser evil than passing HIV onto a partner, even when pregnancy is possible.

"We're not just talking about an encounter between two men, which has little to do with procreation. We're now introducing relationships that could lead to childbirth," Martin said.

Individual bishops and theologians have applied the lesser evil theory to the condom-HIV issue, but it had previously been rejected at the highest levels of the Vatican, Martin said.

Monsignor Jacques Suaudeau, an expert on the Vatican's bioethics advisory board, said the pope was articulating the theological idea that there are degrees of evil.

"Contraception is not the worst evil. The church does not see it as good, but the church does not see it as the worst," he told the AP. "Abortion is far worse. Passing on HIV is criminal. That is absolute irresponsibility."

He said the pope broached the topic because questions about condoms and AIDS persisted, and the church's teaching hadn't been clear. There is no official Vatican policy about condoms and HIV, and Vatican officials in the past have insisted that condoms not only don't help fight HIV transmission but make it worse because it gives users a false sense of security.

"This pope gave this interview. He was not foolish. It was intentional," Suaudeau said. "He thought that this was a way of bringing up many questions. Why? Because it's true that the church sometimes has not been too clear."

Lombardi said the pope didn't use the technical terminology "lesser evil" in his comments because he wanted his words to be understood by the general public. Vatican officials, however, said that was what he meant.

"The contribution the pope wanted to give is not a technical discussion with scientific language on moral problems," Lombardi said. "This is not the job of a book of this type."
Associated Press reporters Rachel Zoll in New York, Jason Straziuso in Nairobi and AP Medical Writer Marilynn Marchione contributed to this report.

Church urged to soften stand on condom use

This is the cover of "Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Sign of the Times" by Pope Benedict XVI. In the book, which was to be released Nov. 23, the pope said the use of condoms may be a sign of moral responsibility in some specific situat ions when the intention is to reduce the risk of AIDS. (CNS)

The Star, Phlippines

MANILA, Philippines (Xinhua) - A government official called on the local Catholic Church Monday to follow the example of Pope Benedict XIV who had softened his stand on the use of condom in the fight against the spread of HIV-AIDS.

Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office head Ramon Carandang told reporters Monday, "I think our own clergy should be informed by the views of the Vatican because they've always referred to the Vatican when they stated their position. Now that the Vatican's position is such, then I think that should result in a corresponding flexibility on the part of our Church. The local Church cannot be more popish than the Pope."

He added that the use of condom and other forms of contraceptives is not as controversial in other parts of the world as it is in the Philippines.

Pope's position would also boost the Department of Health's earlier project of distributing free condom to the public as part of its anti-HIV-AIDS program, as well as the bid to pass the Reproductive Health bill, he said.

The Pope during an interview for the book "The Light of the World" had said that the use of condoms maybe justified to stop the spread of HIV-AIDS. He, however, acknowledged that it is not the only way to handle the spread of the HIV infection.

He also clarified that his comments does not weaken their stand against the general use of artificial contraceptives.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines said they prefer to waiting until the book is published this week but acknowledged that the Pope's comments focuses on the use of condoms as one of the tools to prevent the spread of HIV-AIDS and not as the main measure.

Abortion is illegal in the Philippines, but condoms and birth control pills are available despite church objections. Philippine church officials are against contraception which is banned by the constitution.

Like four out of five Filipinos, Aquino is a Catholic. But he supports the right to contraception in the country with an aim to slow the country's annual population growth of 2 percent.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lawmakers welcome Pope's stand on condom use vs AIDS fight


Both the oppositors and the advocates of the controversial reproductive health (RH) bill in the House of Representatives welcomed the statement of Pope Benedict XVI that condoms could be used to stop the spread of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), in certain cases.

In a text message to GMANews.TV, Paranaque Rep. Roilo Golez said the move of the Pope is to protect life and not to prevent it.

“It is only for male prostitutes with AIDS. Not like the pro-RH condoms which are meant to prevent life. The RH people cannot use this to promote condoms. The RH objective in promoting condom is primarily to prevent life, and secondarily to prevent infection," he said.

Golez is the author of House Bill 13 of the proposed Act Providing for the Safety and Protection of the Unborn Child which states that the unborn child, from the moment of conception onwards, should be protected.

Golez's bill said unborn children should be protected from all outside intervention that could be medically considered as abortive during the natural process of growth of the fertilized ovum. These include chemicals, surgical procedures, or abdominal massage.

The Church frowns on the use of condom as a family planning method because it interferes in the process of conception.

Pope: Condoms not a moral solution to AIDS

An Associated Press (AP) article on Sunday quoted the Pope as saying that condoms are not a moral solution to stopping AIDS but in some cases, such as for male prostitutes, their use could represent a first step in assuming moral responsibility "in the intention of reducing the risk of infection."

The Pope, however, also reiterated the Church's position that abstinence and marital fidelity are the only sure ways of preventing the spread of HIV.

The Pope made the statement in response to a German journalist's general question about Africa, where heterosexual HIV spread is rampant.

The Pope's comment will be published in a book entitled "Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times," which will be released on Tuesday.

The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano published excerpts of the interview on Saturday.

Tool for responsible choice

Bacolod City Rep. Anthony Golez said the Pope’s remark about condoms to lower the risk of transmission of HIV/AIDS is going to be welcomed by Catholics around the world.

“This is our way of contribution to humanity in our quest to protect and preserve life from this killer infection," he said in a text message.

"The (condom's) offer of protection is not absolute and must not be abused or mistaken as a ticket to promiscuity or for other ends, but rather its use can be a tool to be more responsible to the choices one makes," he added.

He added that as a Catholic doctor and public health practitioner, it would now be more conscionable to prescribe or teach to patients about the use of condoms to prevent or reduce risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS as a step towards a responsible use of human sexuality.

Repercussions on RH debates

Bagong Henerasyon Rep. Bernadette Herrera-Dy was happy that the Church is now open-minded and adjusting to what is necessary to the present time.

Golez and Herrera-Dy are co-authors of the HB 19.

Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara was surprised with the Pope’s statement as it is a change in the previous hard line policy of the Catholic Church.

“It will have repercussions on the current debates in Congress on reproductive health and responsible parenthood," he said.

Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan, for her part, said that although the reason given by the Pope leaves much to be desired “still it is a move towards a freer and more liberal outlook."

“The Pope’s declaration is an opening of the dark tunnel which can enlighten the Catholics and non-Catholics and lead the flock towards the light of understanding and acceptance of the realities of the times," she said.

She expressed hope that it will encourage people to weigh the advantages of a State policy and comprehensive RH bill.

“If the Pope is widening the tunnel leading to truth wider, then we should not be more popish than the pope. Then all can benefit from the light of change," she added.

Ilagan is one of the authors of the six RH bills pending in the House of Representatives.

Problem of sexually-transmitted diseases

Davao del Sur Rep. Marc Douglas Cagas IV expressed hope the Pope recognizes the problem of sexually transmitted diseases and overpopulation.

“We should pass the RH bill," he said.

CIBAC Rep. Sherwin Tugna sees the statement as a positive development as while it is only categorical, this goes to show that the leadership of the Catholic Church are closely studying and deliberating on the use of condoms as well as other forms of contraceptives.

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone believed that the Catholic Church is now beginning to realize that the issue is not confined to population alone but also the health of the people.

“I hope our local Catholic Church will take notice of that radical statement of the pope to rethink their position on the issues of health and population," he said.

DIWA Rep. Emmeline Aglipay said she was quite surprised by the Pope’s statement but sees it as a very welcome sign of a more progressive Catholic Church.

“Responsible sexuality is an issue which a responsible Church should tackle head on. The Church’s role in social change and in taking part in solutions to prevalent social ills, such as the spread of HIV cannot be overemphasized," she said.

A question of exceptions

According to the AP article, Cardinal Elio Sgreccia, the Vatican's longtime top official on bioethics and sexuality, said the Pope's stand pertains only to cases where condom use "is the only way to save a life."

Quoting Sgreccia on the Italian news agency ANSA, the AP report said the Pope's stand on the condom issue was "in the realm of the exceptional."

"If Benedict XVI raised the question of exceptions, this exception must be accepted ... and it must be verified that this is the only way to save life. This must be demonstrated," Sgreccia said.

In the same AP report, Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans said the Pope was clearly not encouraging condom use.

"I think the pope has been very strong in saying condoms do not solve the problem of morality and do not solve the problem of good sex education. But if a person chooses not to follow the teaching of Christ in the church, they are at least obliged to prevent another person from contracting a disease that is deadly," he said.


AIDS (Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is a disease of the human immune system caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

The disease affects the immune system and leaves individuals susceptible to infections and tumors.

The virus is transmitted through direct contact of a mucous membrane or the bloodstream with an HIV-infected body fluid — blood, semen, vaginal fluid, preseminal fluid, and breast milk.

The virus can be transmitted through:
anal, vaginal or oral sex with HIV-infected persons);
blood transfusion (if the blood is positive for HIV);
the use of HIV-contaminated hypodermic needles;
exchange between an HIV-infected mother and her baby during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding;

or other exposure to one of the above bodily fluids.

AIDS is considered a pandemic or an epidemic affecting a large part of the population.

According to UNAIDS 2009 report, some 60 million people worldwide have been infected by the disease; some 25 million have died, and around 14 million children were orphaned in southern Africa alone since the epidemic began. – VVP
, GMANews.TV

Monday, November 22, 2010

PRESS STATEMENT: UNAIDS welcomes Pope Benedict's support to HIV prevention

GENEVA, 20 November 2010UNAIDS welcomes the reported statement of Pope Benedict XVI calling for “a humane way of living sexuality” and that the use of condoms are justified "in the intention of reducing the risk of HIV infection".

“This is a significant and positive step forward taken by the Vatican today,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé. “This move recognizes that responsible sexual behaviour and the use of condoms have important roles in HIV prevention.”

UNAIDS has worked closely with the Vatican, in 2009 Mr Sidibé held far-reaching discussions with Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski on HIV prevention issues including the prevention of mother-to-child transmission, protecting young people and reducing sexual violence against women and girls. “This will help accelerate the HIV prevention revolution, in promoting evidence-informed and human rights based approaches to achieve universal access goals towards HIV prevention, treatment, care and support,” said Mr Sidibé. “Together we can build a world with zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.”

With more than 7000 new HIV infections each day, UNAIDS advocates the use of a combination HIV prevention approach that utilizes all proven methods for HIV prevention including use of male and female condoms, choosing to have sex later, having fewer multiple partners, male circumcision, reducing stigma and discrimination, and the removal of punitive laws. The male latex condom is the single, most efficient, available technology to reduce the sexual transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections

Friday, November 19, 2010

Jake Cuenca Shines in New Indie Film About HIV/AIDS

By Anya Santos
Manila Bulletin

MANILA, Philippines - Mainstream actor Jake Cuenca has proven he has the acting chops in his participation in Neal Tan’s indie movie “H.I.V. (Si Heide, Si Ivy at Si V).”

Tan, together with producer Donna M. Sanchez, was the force behind the Rafael Rosell starrer, “Tulak,” an advocacy movie Tan also directed, which centered on the ill effects of using and pushing drugs. “H.I.V.” on the other hand, is another advocacy movie about HIV and AIDS in the Philippines.

Cuenca reportedly immediately snatched the opportunity to be in the movie as soon as he got the script.

"Ito ang kauna-unahang indie movie na ginawa ni Jake Cuenca, and according to him, marami siyang natutunan sa paggawa ng indie," Tan tells PEP via email. "Hindi na daw pera ang pinag-uusapan dito, at na-feel daw niya na wala nang mas mahalaga pa kaysa makagawa ng isang makabuluhang pelikula," Tan continued.

He also commended Cuenca for his willingness to go deeper as an actor, which ispired Cuenca in turn to value his profession more. Cuenca also reportedly told his director that this movie had been the most challenging of his career so far.

According to Tan, he saw Cuenca’s efforts during production, saying his actor would always come to the set early and ready for his scenes. Comparing this work ethic to Fanny Serrano’s, with whom he also worked in another indie movie, “Tarima,” Tan also told PEP, "Tulad ni Fanny Serrano, isa sa mga dakilang artistang nagbibigay ng inspirasyon sa mga tulad kong direktor upang mas pagbutihin pa ang kanilang trabaho, dahilan upang makagawa ng isang matatawag na obra."

Aside from Cuenca on a major role, “H.I.V.” also stars Iza Calzado, Candy Pangilinan, IC Mendoza, at Precious Lara. Support cast includes Will Devaugn, Jao Mapa, Mara Lopez, Azenith Briones, Orestes Ojeda, Abby Cruz, Liz Alindogan, Jess Sanchez and Rustica Carpio.

The script reportedly came together during a screening for “Tulak” in Bacolod. According to Tan, the school officials brought to his attention the need to inform students about the killer disease, most of whom had no clue what it is. Since then, Sanchez and Tan were able to touch base with Wanggo Gallaga, the son of director Peque Gallaga. The younger Gallaga, who is a wirter and editor at Chalk magazine, is said to be HIV-positive and he has helped complete the script, PEP reported.

As per Tan, their target playdate for “H.I.V.” is December, on World AIDS Day itself.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

HIV Cases Rising Among MSM, Patients Getting Younger

Manila Bulletin

By Carina L. Cayon

Davao City, Philippines (15 October) -- Advocacy groups have raised alarm on the increasing cases of HIV positive in the country, along with the climbing number of "Men who have sex with Men" (MSM) and transgenders (TG) as the current most-at-risk-population.

The groups also disclosed that patients of the human immunodeficiency virus were getting younger scoring at the age of 17 to 24 years old based from the recent reported cases.

According to Dr. Ferchito Avelino, authorized HIV diagnostics laboratories in the country confirmed some 5,864 HIV positive cases as of July this year, since the first case came out in 1984.

Avelino cited Davao Region to rank second, next to the National Capital Region as to the number of HIV positive cases, noting that 170 cases which represent 3.2 percent of the total cases nationwide have been reported in Region 11.

He informed that 85% of the region's cases or 144 HIV positive cases were found to be in Davao City.

"Malaki ang contribution ng Davao City sa bilang ng cases ng Davao Region," said Avelino who is executive director of the Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC), a government entity that functions as an advisory, planning and policy-making body for the comprehensive and integrated HIV/AIDS prevention and control program in the country.

Avelino stated "this is a big challenge to the government from the regional down to barangay level on how to address this problem."

According to Jeff Fuentes, Davao City Health Office has reported 18 deaths from the 70 cases it has recorded since 1993.

Fuentes, CHO population program officer, said that CHO has recorded four cases in 2007, while 14 in 2008.

This year, he noted, there were 17 persons infected with HIV as reported from January to July, which was same as the number of cases recorded the whole year of 2009.

"The first semester of this year already covered the one year data of 2009. Cases have doubled. That's how alarming it is." stressed Fuentes.

According to him, all cases came from the sector of MSM/TG who had multiple sex partners and had inconsistent condom use. He added that all had high educational attainment.

He also said that 47% of the total HIV infected persons in the city belonged to the age bracket of 25-29 years old, while 35% came from the age bracket of 20-24.

But the main age, Fuentes stressed, were getting younger at the age of 17-24 based from the recent HIV surveillance which was accounted for January to July 2010 report.

Dr. Philip Castro of the United Nations Development Programme, revealed that the Philippines is one of countries in Asia with a rapid increase of HIV cases among MSM.

Castro informed that UNDP-Bangkok has been supporting regional initiatives in Asian countries, citing for instance the development of comprehensive packages to address the epidemic among MSM/TG.

"For a long time, ginawa na natin ang mga interventions with MSM. But, despite our rapid interventions, tumataas pa rin ang kaso natin," Castro said.

The alarming HIV situation among MSM/TG has brought about the recent gathering of advocacy groups and leaders of the MSM/TG communities during the first Visayas and Mindanao Regional Conference held in the city last week of September.

Dr. Edelina dela Paz, executive director of the Health Action Information Network (HAIN), said "the conference equates us to address issues and concerns not only on the basic human rights of the sector but also on their access to basic social services and the right to self respect."

HAIN is a non-government organization that does advocacy, research, information and education strategies on health and development, including HIV/AIDs or the Acquire Immunodeficiency Syndrome.

In a media release, UNDP Country Director Renaud Meyer said "the recent trend in the epidemic and the emerging HIV challenges require a cadre of strong advocates and champions that will put forward the agenda of MSM and TG."

Meyer, who attended the conference, further stated "the disturbing trend in the country call for concrete actions that will not only create awareness on the emerging issues and challenges of HIV and AIDS, but more importantly, tackle HIV and AIDS from a broader perspective that goes beyond access to health care and support services."

Akbayan Party List representative Atty. Arlene Bag-ao, who was the keynote speaker of the conference, expressed frustrations on the low government fund for HIV/AIDS considering that it was lumped to the TB and dengue budget.

Bag-ao, however, hoped that the budget would be increased next year to address the climbing number of HIV cases in the country. "This entails lots of efforts. The Congress is working on it," she told the local media during the conference.

Meanwhile, IWAG Dabaw, Inc., a gay organization in Davao City, has been doing advocacy, massive information and education drive and workshops to elevate the level of awareness among its members.

IWAG Dabaw executive director Rhoy Diaz said the issue on HIV/AIDS has been taken for granted for a time, adding that his group has to employ a new approach to be effective and has been working hard to decrease number of HIV infection in the city.

Diaz said that during their workshops, they have to inform the HIV prevalence in the communities without mentioning the names of the persons infected with the virus. (PIA-XI)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Integrating the MDGs: delivering for girls, women and babies

Mr Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS

Ahead of the opening of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Summit at the UN in New York City, General Assembly delegates gathered today for a dialogue with bilateral donors, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), First Ladies, youth leaders and the private sector on how to secure the resources and political will needed to achieve the MDGs—with specific focus on delivering solutions for women, girls and babies.

The event, Accelerating Action on the MDGs: Delivering for Girls, Women and Babies, was organized by the global advocacy organization Women Deliver, and co-sponsored by UNFPA, WHO, World Bank and UNAIDS. Speakers included Ms Graça Machel, renowned international advocate for women’s and children’s rights, Mr Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS, and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a managing director with the World Bank.

‘Achieving the MDGs is possible’
The speakers presented compelling cases for the possibility of achieving the MDGs, if the world’s leaders make the necessary resources available. With 110 million children not having access primary education—of which two thirds are girls—and women being disproportionally represented among the 1.4 billion people living below the poverty line, many of the MDGs seem far from attainable.

“This agenda will never succeed, if it remains only in the hands of us here in New York. It must be owned at the country level, by every head of state, every woman and every girl,” said Ms Machel.

Yet, the AIDS movement has effectively demonstrated that achieving the MDGs is possible: countries such as Botswana and Namibia are close to reaching the goal of virtual elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV; and, twenty-two of the most affected countries in sub-Saharan Africa have reduced new HIV infections by more than 25%. Key steps have been taken to stop and reverse the spread of HIV by 2015, as MDG 6 reads.

Integration of the MDGs
According to Mr. Sidibé, it is clear that investing in one MDG will help achieve the others. “Where HIV is prevented, maternal mortality decreases. When a mother’s life is saved; a newborn’s life is usually saved. When girls are educated, poverty decreases.”

Mr Sidibé added that the AIDS response should be a bridge for joining health and development movements, such as maternal and child health, sexual and reproductive health, and women’s rights. “For me, it is clear: no progress on the MDGs without integration,” he said.

Other speakers at the event included Fred Sai, Ghanaian Family Health Physician, Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen, CEO of Vestergaard Frandsen SA, and Imane Khachani, of the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, Morocco.

After each speaker, the audience discussed in small groups the challenges and shared their views and strategies on how they can be met and the way forward. The results of the discussions will be posted on the Women Deliver website.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

RP to gear up for new development goals

By Iris C. Gonzales
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Countries including the Philippines are expected to gear up for new development goals, dubbed as Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Plus during the upcoming United Nations Review Summit on MDGs on Sept. 21, said UN resident coordinator in the Philippines Jacqui Badcock.

In a recent interview with The Star, Badcock said what may come out during the summit is a discussion on the so-called MDGs Plus.

“There’s still a lot to do. I suspect there’ll be a huge focus on the goals that we are struggling to achieve,” Badcock said.

The eight MDGs are a set of specific and time-bound development goals committed by the governments to be achieved by 2015, using 1990 data as baseline.

The eight goals are to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and women empowerment, reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat diseases; ensure environmental sustainability and develop a global partnership for development.

Badcock said that there are still problems by most countries around the globe in achieving the goals on maternal health, education and poverty.

“There is a question mark on maternal health and whether we’ll achieve education. And then we know that (achieving the goal on) poverty is on the borderline. We hope we’ll achieve it. The one on hunger is the hardest one for so many countries,” Badcock said.

She noted that malnutrition is still prevalent in so many countries.

“I imagine that what will come out on the summit is the need to focus even more on some MDGs,” she said.

She said the country’s efforts in achieving the MDGs needs improvement but she expressed optimism that the Aquino administration would be working on that.

Last week, the Philippine government launched its latest report on the MDGs, with officials noting that the country is likely to miss three of the eight development goals.

Of the eight goals, the report said that the government should improve its focus on reducing poverty, improving education and achieving maternal health.

It should also focus on improving the performance of boys in basic education as well as on reducing the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the country.

On the other hand, the report said the country has high probabilities of meeting the targets of reducing child mortality; promoting women empowerment, reversing the incidence of malaria and tuberculosis and providing access to sanitary facilities, which according to the report has already been surpassed.

Nevertheless, the government said, it should exert all that it can to realize the MDGs within the next five years.

“The economy needs to attract local and foreign investments to spur economic growth. To do this, physical infrastructure has to be improved, water and power have to be made available at competitive rates and more transparent systems in doing business need to be established,” the MDG report said.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

AIDS 2010: Rights Here, Right Now

The largest global AIDS conference, which takes place in Vienna 18 to 23 July, emphasizes the central importance of protecting and promoting human rights as a prerequisite to a successful response to HIV.

Under the theme “Rights Here, Right Now”, the biannual conference “AIDS 2010” also stresses that concrete human rights measures are needed to protect those most vulnerable to and affected by HIV such as women and girls, people who use drugs, migrants, prisoners and sex workers.

“The lack of respect for human rights, including stigma and discrimination, is fueling the epidemic. It is perhaps the greatest barrier to developing an appropriate global response to HIV,” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in a video to be screened at the conference.

For example, more than 50 countries worldwide continue to have laws prohibiting the cross-border movement of people living with HIV. Experts say that such laws are discriminatory, contrary to sound public health principles, and are preventing an appropriate global response in the fight against the spread of the virus.

The United Nations Human Rights office (OHCHR) is calling for the repeal of national legislation which imposes blanket restrictions on the entry, stay and residence of people based on their HIV status alone.

“HIV knows no borders. It is therefore important to ensure that international migrants have the same rights as everyone else. A person’s HIV status alone should not be seen as a reason for refusing to employ him or her,” Pillay said.
UNAIDS Executive Director Michéle Sidibé supported the message. “And for me it’s time to call all the countries to remove travel restrictions.”

“One of the major challenges with HIV response in the world today is stigma, discrimination and criminalization. In a nutshell, it’s… about human rights – the basic human rights of people,” he said.

The AIDS conference, which attracts 25,000 participants worldwide, also features a Human Rights Networking Zone where individuals and organizations can involve visitors to campaign against HIV-related human-rights violations. The Zone is showing a video produced by OHCHR about the deportation of a migrant worker after he was tested HIV positive.

Combating HIV/AIDS is one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). OHCHR stresses that pursuing development hand-in-hand with human rights gives countries a better chance of achieving the MDGs by 2015.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Young Olympians get the HIV message

AIDS-inspired dance workshops, sports games with an HIV awareness-raising twist and make-your-own plasticine prevention messages were highlight activities coordinated by UNAIDS at the first-ever Youth Olympic Games, as part of the culture and education programme designed to encourage young Olympic athletes to learn more about issues of well-being, healthy lifestyle and social responsibility.

Throughout the proceedings of the Youth Games, held in Singapore from 14 to 26 August, a UNAIDS booth and a series of workshops addressed sexuality and HIV transmission, including myths and misconceptions, through interactive games, peer-to-peer discussion and innovative dance and drama methods.

Hosted in the Olympic village, the activities were accessible to the 3600 participating young athletes aged 14-18 and 1400 team officials. Every day, hundreds of young athletes visited the UNAIDS booth and workshops, with all activities coordinated and delivered by volunteers from UNAIDS event partners Y-PEER from the Philippines, Singapore-based organization BEADS as well as Youth Olympic Games volunteers.

“Despite language barriers, we were able to unite and channel energies of athletes coming from different cultures and backgrounds to talk about HIV and reiterate the need for protection and awareness,” said Y-PEER volunteer Mario Balibago.

While visiting the UNAIDS booth, athletes were encouraged to post updates to the UNAIDS Facebook page. “HIV is a good thing to talk about with the youth and to share… all over the world. Protect yourself and show love for people with HIV,” posted Kernesha Spann, a young 400m runner from Trinidad and Tobago.

The UNAIDS booth also received a number of high-profile visitors including Mr Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee, and Mr Wilfried Lemke, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on Sport and Development, who both commended the use of innovative formats to reach young people with HIV messages through sport.

The partnership with the Youth Olympic Games is geared towards emphasizing UNAIDS’ priority area of empowering young people to protect themselves against HIV and as part of activities in support of the International Year of Youth, which commenced on 12 August. Following the successful interventions in Singapore, UNAIDS will continue to work with the International Olympic Committee to strengthen the partnership, including exploring the development of a cadre of Youth Athlete Champions for HIV.

“Sport is an incredible channel for getting HIV messages out to young people. As well as the athletes, the volunteers working with us at the booth also became hugely sensitized on HIV issues and wanted to spread the word further,” said Dawn Foderingham, Partnerships Advisor at the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific who coordinated UNAIDS’ participation in the Youth Games. “Young people are champions both on and off the field and their leadership on HIV can have critical impact,” she added.


Friday, August 20, 2010

World Humanitarian Day

Today marks the second World Humanitarian Day. It is an opportunity to learn about what it means to be a humanitarian aid worker by hearing about their work, reading the principles that guide them and being aware of the hazards they face in the course of their work. The Day also honours those who have been killed or injured in the course of their humanitarian work. The General Assembly established the day in 2008 and invites all countries, UN entities and international and non-governmental organizations to observe the day.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore

During the next two weeks, Singapore is making Olympic history by being the host of the first-ever Youth Olympic Games, opening on 14 August 2010.

The Youth Olympic Games, to be held every two years (alternating Summer and Winter), is an international high-level sporting event for young people, which offers a balance of sport, culture and education. The Games were created to educate, engage, and influence young athletes, inspiring them to play an active role in their communities.

Around 370,000 spectators will gather to watch young athletes, aged 14 to 18 from around the world, participate in Singapore 2010. The inaugural games include high-level competition in 26 sports categories and a Cultural and Education Programme focused on a variety of themes including the Olympic values. It will also consist of skills-building sessions for participants, including on HIV.

As young people account for 40% of all new HIV infections globally, placing young people in the driving seat to halt and to begin to reverse the HIV epidemic is crucial.

“Young athletes are role models in their communities. We need to call on these young people to lead the prevention revolution if we are to reach UNAIDS vision of Zero new infections,” said Mr Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS Executive Director, “Sports can be a powerful vehicle to come about change in societies around the world.”

UNAIDS has partnered with the Singapore Youth Olympic Games Organising Committee (SYOGOC) in the context of its overall partnership with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in order to provide HIV prevention information and raise awareness about HIV among young people during the two weeks of the Games.

“HIV awareness and prevention campaigns are most effective when addressed to the youth” said Mr Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee. He added: “Sport is a powerful tool for reaching out to today’s youth on all continents and for educating them early on about healthy and responsible behaviours.”

UNAIDS, together with civil society organizations, will conduct a series of workshops focusing on adolescent sexual and reproductive health as well as stigma surrounding HIV under the educational theme “Well-Being and Healthy Lifestyle.” Workshops will be open to the estimated 3,600 young, athletes and 1,400 officials in the Olympic Village.

The workshops will be run in collaboration with Y-PEER, a youth-to-youth initiative, and BEADS, a Singapore organization. The sessions will use dance and competitive games to address topic such as sexuality and HIV transmission, and addressing myths and misconceptions about HIV.

The content of these interactive sessions has been developed specifically for the Youth Olympic Games to engage athletes. In addition, condoms have been made available for free at the medical clinics.

Sport is recognized as a powerful communication tool and is unique in its ability to unify and galvanize people all over the world. In recognizing the importance of sports for development, the partnership with the Youth Olympic Games is geared towards one of UNAIDS’ ten priority areas namely to empower young people to protect themselves against HIV.


Monday, August 9, 2010

PhilHealth draws up benefit package for HIV/AIDS patients

By Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star)

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) has come up with a benefit package for people with HIV/AIDS to fortify efforts to meet Millennium Development Goal No. 6, which is to “halt or reverse the spread” the virus.

In PhilHealth Circular 19-2010, the agency said outpatients with HIV/AIDS are entitled to a P30,000 insurance package for one year, provided that the infection has been “confirmed” by the Sexually Transmitted Disease/AIDS Central Cooperative Laboratory or Research Institute for Tropical Medicine.

This benefit package aims to increase the proportion of the population having access to effective HIV/AIDS treatment and patient education measures,” said PhilHealth president and chief executive officer Dr. Rey Aquino.

But according to Dr. Susan Gregorio, medical specialist of the multi-sector Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC), the benefit package is “small,” considering that the monthly cost of anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment that an HIV patient needs is P15,000.

“I don’t know why it is like that because during our previous meetings, the amount we were eyeing was much higher,” she said.

ARV is a treatment protocol given to HIV patients when the level of their CD4 cells, which the AIDS virus attacks, goes down to 300 from the normal count of 1,200. ARV treatment helps prevent the progression of HIV into full-blown AIDS.

Gregorio said the P15,000 per month does not include the cost of other medicines, laboratory examinations and other medical needs of an HIV patient.

Some 500 HIV patients in the country are receiving free ARV treatment from the Department of Health (DOH) through the funding provided by non-government organizations.

The PhilHealth package shall cover the “drugs and medicines, laboratory examinations including CD4 level determination test and test for monitoring of ARV toxicity and professional fees of providers.”

“The package will be released in four quarterly payments; each sub-package is worth P7,500 payable to the recognized treatment hub of accredited facilities. A maximum of four treatment sub-packages per year may be claimed by the treatment hub,” the circular stated.

From January 1984 to June 2010, the DOH registered a total of 5,233 HIV cases, 847 of which have progressed into AIDS.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lack of funding threatens the future of HIV drug therapy in the developing world

By David Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 29, 2010

Ten years ago, many experts thought you couldn't bring antiretroviral therapy to people with AIDS in poor countries. The drugs cost too much, there weren't enough doctors, the patients wouldn't take the medicines correctly, and the risk of creating a resistant virus was too high.

None of that turned out to be true. About 5.2 million people with HIV infections are on lifesaving treatment in low- and middle-income countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, antiretroviral therapy, much of it paid for by the U.S. government, is resurrecting whole communities.

But the world is facing a potentially more intractable problem: the price of success.

There's barely enough money to pay for people whose treatment is underway and who will need it for a lifetime. There isn't enough to start treatment for about 5 million more who urgently need it.

Those new concerns about costs dominated the 18th International AIDS Conference, which drew 19,300 participants from 193 countries to Vienna last week.

"If I were to characterize the mood here, I would say it was a combination of rage and panic," said Joanne Carter, director of the anti-poverty group Results and a board member of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

The rage is directed at the Obama administration, which many activists say is reneging on a commitment to continue big annual increases in global AIDS spending. The panic arises from the knowledge that in some African countries, patients who want antiretroviral treatment are being turned away and will soon start dying.

Some activists pine for former president George W. Bush, who launched a much-praised multibillion-dollar fund to fight AIDS around the world. But now, in the eyes of many, the U.S. government has replaced the pharmaceutical industry as the main impediment to progress.

"The paradox is that the United States government and other funding partners have decided to either flat-line or reduce their spending just when funding should be ramped up so we could actually win the battle," said Paul Zeitz, director of the Global AIDS Alliance.

U.S. overseas AIDS funding is part of the Global Health Initiative (GHI), the Obama administration's $63 billion, six-year program. The portion devoted to HIV and tuberculosis, an infection to which AIDS patients are particularly prone, is $44 billion. The rest goes to malaria, maternal and child-health programs, and the hard-to-define goal of "health systems strengthening." Although larger than Bush's revolutionary President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), Obama's GHI is spread across more agencies. It is less a bullet aimed at the heart of AIDS than a net cast to capture a flock of health problems.

"What it takes to save lives of those with HIV and those most at risk to contract it is a comprehensive approach that recognizes the roles of other diseases," Gayle Smith, Obama's special assistant for development and democracy, wrote on the White House blog last week.

An unmet need

AIDS activists say nobody should doubt that the need for treatment among the 33.4 million people infected with HIV globally is urgent and largely unmet.

The United Nations agency UNAIDS estimates that $23.6 billion was needed to address the epidemic in low- and middle-income countries last year. Yet only $15.9 billion was available from all sources, public and private. The U.S. government provided 27 percent of that money, mostly through PEPFAR, which Bush started in 2003 with a then-staggering commitment to spend $15 billion on prevention and treatment over five years.

The United States has been by far the biggest donor of money for AIDS treatment to the world's poor, last year providing 58 percent of the $7.6 billion given by governments. Britain, a distant second, gave 10 percent of the total. Japan, with the world's third-largest economy, contributed 2 percent.

This international AIDS assistance has climbed steadily from $1.2 billion in 2002 to last year's $7.6 billion. The cost of treating someone with HIV infection has fallen even more dramatically. In 2000, three-drug antiretroviral therapy cost about $10,000 a year. With concessionary pricing and the use of generics, it's now $120 for the world's poorest patients.

The trouble, activists say, is that the big gains in generosity and economizing have mostly stopped. International AIDS assistance was the same in 2008 and 2009, and is not expected to go up much, if any, this year. The White House request for global AIDS spending for the next fiscal year is only 2 percent higher than what is being spent this year.

Although there's argument about the exact numbers, there's little doubt the Obama administration is on track to spend less than planned by either the GHI or the Lantos-Hyde Act of 2008, which renewed PEPFAR and authorized spending $48 billion from 2009 through 2013. Many other donor countries are taking a similar go-slower approach.

A matter of principle

Still, the need to increase AIDS treatment in those places is a matter of principle, the activists say. They note that Obama supported the Lantos-Hyde Act as a senator and campaigned on a promise of increasing overseas AIDS spending.

"Bush made a commitment, and then circumstances changed. Despite the change, he kept his word," said Zeitz of the Global AIDS Alliance.

Many AIDS experts and activists also argue that treatment is an important prevention tool. That's because when a person is successfully on antiretroviral therapy, HIV virtually disappears from body fluids, greatly reducing the possibility that the patient will infect others.

The GHI "recognizes that we can't treat our way out of the HIV-AIDS epidemic," Ezekiel J. Emanuel, the president's special adviser for health policy, wrote in the Huffington Post during the conference in Vienna. "The key to ending it is to reduce the number of those who become HIV-positive in the long term -- and that takes improving their overall health and the health systems around them."

Word of the funding constraints is reaching villages and clinics.

A letter sent in October from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention instructed PEPFAR partners in Uganda that they "should only enroll new patients if they are sure that these new patients can continue to be supported without a future increase in funding." Carter, the Global Fund board member, said she met a woman at the AIDS conference who works in that country and testified to the reappearance of things not seen in years.

"She is starting to see people die because they don't have access to antiretrovirals. She is also seeing people sharing medicines," Carter said. "The fact is, this crisis isn't looming. It's happening."


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Window for anxiety in HIV tests

July 25, 2010, Manila Bulletin

Getting tested for HIV is not a simple manner.

If you have engaged in a risky sexual behavior one night and submit yourself to HIV testing the next day, you may receive a negative result. But hold your plans for celebration as you need to wait for 90 days before you can be sure whether the virus has gotten its hold on you or not.

The 90-day window period may cause the person anxiety but he or she needs to wait for the more accurate results that will come out after this stretch.

“During the window period, it is so scary because you cannot detect the virus but the number of virus is at its highest at this stage,” Dr. Gerard Belimac, Department of Health (DoH) program manager on sexually transmitted infections (STI) and AIDS, said in a media seminar held in Palawan last week.

“At this early stage of infection, the person has no antibody. The window period is three months so there is a false sense of security if you get tested within three months,” Belimac said.

The DoH encourages the most-at-risk populations to undergo HIV testing. People whose tests yield positive results can avail themselves of treatment services for free at social hygiene clinics nationwide.

The health department earlier listed the most-at-risk populations for HIV and AIDS: female and male sex workers and their clients, IDUs (injecting drug users), MSMs (males having sex with males), and persons whose partners have been exposed or suspect they have been exposed to HIV.

The rise of HIV/AIDS cases in the country is worrying health authorities who already have their hands full in achieving the sixth Millennium Development Goal which aims to reduce HIV/AIDS and other diseases by half by 2015.

The number of infections in the country beginning 1984 up to May 2010 is 5,124 with 700 new cases detected only this year.

In May alone, 123 cases were recorded in the HIV/AIDS registry which is an 80 percent increase in the same period last year.

Eighty-eight percent of the infections was transmitted through sexual contact particularly through Males having sex with Males (MSM). Twenty-eight cases were gathered from Injecting Drug Users (IDU).

A striking detail to this figure is that 47 percent of HIV infections were very recently infected (last five months), a survey made by the National Epidemiology Center (NEC) said.

“We need to encourage people to get HIV testing. Before, it is hard to ask people to do this because there are no Antiretroviral (ART) drugs available. But now, we have ART and they can be treated as soon as possible,” Belimac said.

“In the past, HIV is like a death sentence. But now, the person can start the treatment soon,” he added.


Friday, July 2, 2010

HIV incidence on the rise among women in Asia, UN says

Bangkok – HIV rates are on the rise among Asian women, highlighting the need for new policy priorities, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) warned Monday. In 2007, women accounted for 35 per cent of all people living with HIV in Asia, up from 18 per cent in…

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Monday, May 31, 2010

RP failing in goal to stop AIDS, says UN

By Jerry E. Esplanada
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Posted date: May 30, 2010

THE PHILIPPINES CONTINUES TO fall short of its sixth Millennium Development Goal (MDG), which is to halt and reverse the spread of the dreaded HIV-AIDS disease.

This was disclosed to the Inquirer by Teresita Marie Bagasao, country coordinator of the United Nations Program on HIV-AIDS or UNAIDS.

Interviewed Friday night during the AIDS candlelight memorial observance at Rajah Sulaiman Park in Manila, Bagasao said they were very appreciative of the efforts being undertaken by the multisectoral Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC) against the killer disease.

But the PNAC needs “to do more,” Bagasao asserted.

AIDS or the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus or HIV. The virus attacks and weakens the body’s immune system, ultimately leading to death. It is usually sexually transmitted although infection can also occur through blood transfusions, needle-sharing and mother-to-child transfer at birth.

Over 25 million people worldwide have died of AIDS since the 1980s, according to UNAIDS.

Bagasao said the country was “falling short” of MDG No. 6. “Based on official reports, new infection rates are going up, not down,” she said.

In a UN report furnished the Inquirer, the body’s representative office in Manila disclosed that “while the country is still within the target of less than one percent of the population for HIV-AIDS, the rising number of HIV cases has become a cause for alarm.”

The report also said HIV cases among the youth had been increasing at “an unprecedented rate” while similar cases “among the 15-24 age group nearly tripled.”

“Aside from the youth, other vulnerable populations (groups) include persons in prostitution and their clients, males who have sex with males, people who inject drugs, and overseas Filipino workers,” the report also said.

Last month, the Department of Health-attached National Epidemiology Center (NEC) warned that the number of HIV-AIDS cases in the country, which had been steadily climbing since 2007, may breach the 6,000-mark for the first time this year.

Based on NEC projections, new HIV infections may reach 1,500 “by Christmas 2010.”
Dr. Eric Tayag, NEC director, told the recent HIV Summit in Manila, “The inconvenient truth is, the future is not bright. It’s going to get worse.”

Like Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral, Bagasao stressed the need to “further intensify” the anti-HIV-AIDS drive.

Cabral, who is also PNAC chair, urged the public to keep in mind the “ABCDE” of the anti-HIV-AIDS drive: “Abstain from sex. Be faithful to your partner. Consistently use condoms. Do not use illegal drugs. And educate yourself.”

Cabral is up against a powerful Catholic Church lobby against the use of condoms or any other artificial contraceptive device. The Church is also against the reproductive health bill which would make sex education compulsory in public and private schools.
But Anastacio Marasigan Jr., executive director of The Library Foundation, one of the organizers of this year’s AIDS candlelight memorial (ACM), called for “expanded coverage” of the campaign against HIV-AIDS.

“There’s still a lot of things to be done, especially in the information drive,” said Marasigan as he also expressed hope “people will start realizing that it’s not just a health issue but also a human rights issue.”

Between 1984 and 2010, the DOH recorded a total of 835 AIDS cases. During the period, more than 310 AIDS victims died.

Today, between 33 million and 36 million people are living with HIV-AIDS. About 50 percent of them are women. Last year, about 2.7 million people got infected with HIV.

Dr. Chito Avelino, PNAC executive director, said more than 1,200 anti-AIDS advocates attended the candlelight memorial, which aimed to “remember and honor those who have passed away due to AIDS.”

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Bias hurts fight vs HIV in gay Asian men—UN
First Posted 08:53:00 05/18/2010
Filed Under: Sex Videos, Health, Asia Australia - Australia New Zealand, Gender Issues

MANILA, Philippines--More than 90 percent of men having sex with men in the Asia-Pacific region, a group in which HIV prevalence has reached alarming levels, do not have access to prevention and care services due to an adverse legal and social environment, a United Nations-backed forum was told.

And this already critical situation is likely to become worse unless countries address the legal context of the epidemic, taking into account the effect of laws and law enforcement practices on the health of men who have sex with men and transgender persons.

“The effectiveness of the HIV response will depend not just on the sustained scale-up of HIV prevention, treatment and care, but on whether the legal and social environment support or hinder programs for those who are most vulnerable,” Mandeep Dhaliwal, UN Development Program (UNDP) Cluster Leader on Human Rights, Gender, and Sexual Diversity, told the gathering in Hong Kong Monday.

“The development and strengthening of an enabling legal and social environment is critical for comprehensive interventions for men who have sex with men and transgender people to have the greatest impact.”

The forum--the high-level dialogue on punitive laws, human rights, and HIV prevention among men who have sex with men in the Asia-Pacific region, convened by the UNDP, the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (Apcom), and the Center for Comparative and Public Law (CCPL) at the University of Hong Kong--reviewed the findings of an upcoming report.

According to the study--on laws affecting HIV responses among men who have sex with men and transgender persons in Asia and the Pacific--19 of 48 countries in the region criminalize sex between men, with laws often taking on the force of vigilantism leading to abuse and human rights violations.

Even in the absence of criminalization, other provisions of law often violate the rights of those concerned, thereby obstructing HIV interventions, advocacy and outreach, and service delivery. Moreover, legislation and law enforcement often lag behind national HIV policies, undermining the reach and effectiveness of programs for men who have sex with men.

This indicates the need for greater coordination between health and justice sectors within government, the report stresses. It highlighted some recent examples of protective laws, judicial and policy actions to improve the legal environment for the men concerned, including important court judgments in Fiji, India, Hong Kong, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, and South Korea.

But these are exceptional developments and action is required to improve the legal environment in all countries, it warned.

Panelists in the high-level dialogue include former national high court justices, and representatives from the UN system, parliaments, and civil society.

Friday, April 9, 2010

DOH calls conference to halt advance of HIV/AIDS in RP

By Jerry E. Esplanada
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 18:42:00 04/07/2010

Filed Under: Diseases, Health

MANILA, Philippines—Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral is calling for a "national coordinated response" to prevent the further spread of HIV-AIDS in the country and is organizing a national conference for this purpose next Monday.

"Everyone should be involved in addressing the HIV-AIDS epidemic," said a DOH report furnished the Inquirer.

The department asserted that "intensifying the campaign at various levels of collaboration can help significantly in reinforcing education of the people about HIV prevention and control measures."

"HIV has been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization and has been a biomedical as well as a social issue. This alarm must be transformed into behavior change and accountability for one's actions—taking charge of our own overall health," the DOH report said.

Next Monday, the multisectoral Philippine National AIDS Council, which Cabral chairs, is scheduled to hold a conference to "inform leaders of society about the HIV-AIDS situation in the country."

The one-day meeting also aims to convince these leaders to "scale up the national response to HIV-AIDS."

In a statement on Wednesday, Cabral said that "with increasing cases of HIV reported in the past three years in the Philippines, it has now become imperative for the government to conduct an HIV-AIDS summit."

The HIV-AIDS conference, which will be held at the Manila Diamond hotel, "will serve as a venue to strengthen collaboration among key players in the national response (to the epidemic) and engage others in the realization of a harmonized, collaborative and scaled-up initiative to address the challenges of HIV-AIDS."

In another report, the DOH disclosed that it recorded a total of 835 AIDS cases between 1984 and 2010. During the period, a total of 314 AIDS victims (38 percent) died.

Of the 273 HIV cases registered by the DOH during the past two months, at least three were positive for AIDS.

"For February alone, a total of 130 HIV cases were registered, an increase of 117 percent compared to the same period last year," said the DOH.

"The number of cases have increased significantly," it added. "From one new case reported every three days in 2000, it increased to one per day in 2007 and doubled to two new cases per day in 2009."

This year, about five new cases are being reported to the DOH’s AIDS registry each day, and, according to the DOH, "The number only represents the tip of the iceberg."

During the past 26 years, the DOH recorded a total of 4,697 HIV cases.

A total of 3,477, or 74 percent of the cases, were males, 23 percent of whom were in the 25-29 age group.

Another 20 percent of the victims were in the 30-34 age group, followed by 16 percent in the 35-39 age group.

Ninety percent of the HIV cases (4,203) got the infection through sexual contact: heterosexual (54 percent), homosexual (30 percent) and bisexual (16 percent).

The other modes of HIV transmission were needle-sharing among injecting drug users, blood transfusions, needle-prick injuries and mother-to-child infection.

In January and February, at least 16 overseas Filipino workers were reported HIV positive, said the DOH. Twelve of them were males while four were females. Their ages ranged between 18 and 69.

All 16 HIV cases got the infection through sexual contact.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Dealing with HIV and AIDS

Manila Standard, Philippines

By Adelle Chua

Filipinos have been familiar with HIV and AIDS since the 1980s. Remember movies made about Sarah Jane Salazar and Dolzura Cortez? Even so, the knowledge of the existence of this condition did not alarm most people at the time. The Philippines was thought to be a low-prevalence country, compared to other countries especially in Africa. Many attributed this to the fact that most Filipinos are Catholic—devout, faithful, never promiscuous.

Imagine thus the public’s reaction when no less than the Department of Health announced an almost-fantastic increase in the number of reported cases in recent months. In December 2009 alone, there were 126 reported cases, bringing the full-year 2009 total to 835, from the 2007 total of 343 and 2008 total of 628. Hardly a consolation were the January 2010 figures, which reflected 143 new cases.

To be more dramatic about it, there was an average of one case per two days reported in 2000. In 2007, this became one case per day. In late 2008 to 2009, there were two cases a day. Using the January 2010 numbers, there are four to five cases reported per day.

Ferchito Avelino, executive director of the Philippine National AIDS Council secretariat, says there is a host of reasons for the alarming surge in numbers. First, because of the support of The Global Fund, there has been a more widespread information and intervention program that has also improved access to HIV testing procedures.

Then, too, the Integrated HIV Behavioral Serologic Surveilance, performed in 23 sites all over the country, confirms increased risky behavior among some Filipinos.

The survey, done every two years, includes obtaining blood samples from certain segments of the population deemed “at risk”—people in prostitution, men having sex with men, and people who inject drugs. Extensive interviews are also conducted to get to know respondents’ behavior and lifestyle. The latest survey, done last year, yielded that newer cases being reported are those of people under 30, mostly young urban professionals. Reasons for acquiring the virus were poor knowledge of HIV and AIDS, having multiple sex partners and the low level of condom use.

The 2009 survey also reflected a great increase in transmission among people who inject drugs, leading authorities to link HIV infection and Hepatitis C, a blood-borne disease.

The council (, a creation of Republic Act 8504 and composed of more than 20 government and non-government bodies, is the central coordinating agency for the national response to the threat of HIV and AIDS. But what IS the national response? Avelino says they are focused on the prevention, treatment, care and support of Persons Living with HIV.

By prevention, the council works on information and education campaigns to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS. Risk reduction is key, Avelino says. Abstinence and mutual monogamy are always fool-proof ways. But the truth is that neither the government nor the Church can impose on people what lifestyles to lead. “Different people do behave in so many different ways,” Avelino adds. “The way to help is to ensure they have options.”

This brings us back to the controversial condom, evil incarnate for the Catholic Church. Remember how much flak Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral got from the church hierarchy for distributing condoms at a bus station on Valentines Day? The bishops even reportedly advised Cabral to reflect on her advocacy during the Holy Week just past. The Catholic Church says condoms do not help prevent the spread of HIV and even increase risks as they offer a false sense of security.

Avelino adds that the Church’s position—that condoms offer only 85 percent protection, and this protection decreases with repeated use—just does not make sense. The 15 percent risk, he says, comes from incorrect and inconsistent use. “This is why mere distribution is not enough. We also have to teach people how to use it correctly.”

The council is also involved in conducting awareness campaigns in the workplace, both in the private and public sectors. Numerous corporations have recognized the need to educate their manpower on the consequences of risky behavior. Fortunately, the Civil Service Commission’s chairman, former Health Secretary Francisco Duque, needs no further convincing on the merits of the campaign.

As for treatment, there are now Anti-Retro Viral drugs, prescribed to a patient whose CD4 count (CD4 is a kind of white blood cell that leads the attack on infections) falls below an ideal level. But once a patient starts the ARV treatment—a mix of three drugs, when before there were 10—he has to take them every day, at the same hour, unfailingly, for the rest of his life.

The treatment is costly. The medicines will cost a patient anywhere between P1,500 and P2,000 a day. Remember that the drugs have to be taken every day. The government does provide ARV treatment for free in selected treatment hubs—but this is made possible by the help of The Global Fund. It’s aid, and it will not last forever. The Global Fund rounds last for five yeas and the one currently in force will end in 2012. The Philippines will then have to apply for the next one.

Avelino points to the “burning house” syndrome as what is responsible for the escalation of the number of reported cases. “The problem in this country is that an issue has to be a sensation first in the media before we realize how important it truly is.” In the past, HIV and AIDS were not deemed serious threats to the country. For the most part, there was no decisive, sustained and aggressive effort to prevent its spread. The threat was conveniently swept under the rug.

Now that the situation has been likened to an epidemic, everybody is hysterical—laying blame on others, branding certain industries as “breeding grounds” for HIV, taking the moral high ground, debating over what to do and how exactly to do it, advancing and then receding in the fight because of the fear of offending certain sensibilities. In the meantime, many more people remain uninformed of their options, and more are consigned to a battle with the dreaded virus. The persistent social stigma, from a deadly mix of ignorance and bigotry, makes things worse.

“We cannot afford to be lukewarm anymore in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Tama na ang pagpapa-cute. It’s time for serious action,” Avelino says. He is worried, and with reason. We all are. His current boss, Cabral, has shown admirable gumption in doing what she has to do even as she only assumed the health portfolio in January. She has not yet even made her zeal contagious in the Executive branch. For how long will she stay in her post given that this administration is almost done?

And will the next national leader recognize the threat or keep on waffling to court favor from the almighty church?

Copyright Manila Standard Today 2005-2009

Monday, April 5, 2010

DOH, CBCP agree on ways to prevent spread of HIV/AIDS

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Health (DOH) and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) may have opposing views on the use of condoms, but they agree on other ways to prevent the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) in the country.

Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral and CBCP-National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace (NASSA) HIV programs coordinator Josephine Ignacio, who were panelists in yesterday’s third forum before the April 12 National HIV Summit 2010, approved of other ways to combat HIV/AIDS.

Cabral and Ignacio stressed that there are other factors that they can discuss to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

“From here, we realize that there are common points we can work on without compromising the teachings of the Catholic Church. To tackle the HIV pandemic we need a multi-sectoral approach – government, church and civil society; and we call on the media to keep in mind (their) significant role in uniting these efforts rather than engaging in the topics that divide,” Ignacio said.

She added the HIV/AIDS situation in the country requires them to “look forward rather than backward.”

“The call for a summit is for us to sit down and talk, collaborate between the CBCP-NASSA and the government,” she said.

Ignacio mentioned that instead of dwelling on the condom issue, they should work together and promote awareness of the deadly disease that until now has no cure. “Condom is a small iota of the problem. Poverty is the issue.”

Asked if this means the DOH would stop handing out condoms, Cabral answered no.
She said her department would continue distributing condoms to hygiene clinics, those who engage in men-to-men sexual intercourse, and spouses of indigent HIV victims.

But Ignacio reminded the government not to encourage promiscuous behavior and teach the public to be responsible with their actions and be faithful to their partners.
She said Filipinos should abide by the Church’s teachings to lead orderly lives and called on gay people not to be promiscuous.

Cabral said the “emphasis is what we can cooperate on and not on the things that divide us.”

Gov’t should prepare

Meanwhile, international group Global Funds said it would only pay for the cost of medicine of people living with HIV/AIDS until 2012 and the government should now make preparations to cover the cost of the medicine after that.

Cabral said faith-based groups have an important role to play because they are in charge of molding the behavior of society and individuals.

“They should look for strength from the moral fiber of individuals and societies,” she added.

“Once they have succeeded in reducing the number of those infected with the serious communicable diseases, this would mean less cost for the country because they would no longer have to buy medicine,” she said.

Ignacio said “to label the Church as hostile to the efforts in combating the virus is doing a great disservice to hundreds of thousands of nuns, priests, brothers and other members of the Church who are the silent workforce behind this exceptional response to the pandemic. With the work we have at hand, we do not have the luxury of time to indulge in polemical discussions on condoms.”

By working together the DOH and the Church hope to mitigate the economic impact of the epidemic on the Filipino family, she said.

Cabral said the 5.4 percent of the Global Fund is being accessed by faith-based organizations, including the Catholic Church, and with their meager funds they need to tie up with the government.

Others panelists at the forum were Philippine National Aids Council’s Dr. Susan Gregorio, Social Welfare Undersecretary Cecilia Yangco, Church of God International (Ang Dating Daan’s) representative Jun Soriano and Pinoy Plus president Jericho Paterno
. – Evelyn Macairan

From The Philippine Star